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200 Species Go Extinct Every Day, Why Isn’t This A Bigger Concern Yet?

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By Radhika Jhaveri:

One comes across a variety of species of animals on a visit to the pet store. In addition to the various breeds of dogs and cats that are made available, one can find Cockatoos, Finches, Love Birds, Parakeets, Munias, Hill Mynahs, African Parrots and Star Backed Tortoises as well. A pair of love birds sells for Rs. 250 each, the African Parrot can be sold for an amount anywhere between Rs. 30,000 – 35,000 and the Star Backed Tortoise can fetch around Rs. 1,000 – 1,500 each. Wildlife Trade is a multimillion-dollar industry that has its network spread all over the world.

In India, a wide variety of wild animals are poached and their products traded. Elephants are poached for ivory; Rhinos for horns; Tigers, Leopards and Lions for their skins, claws, and penises which are in high demand because of their alleged value in traditional Chinese medicine. Migratory birds like the red crested Poachard and Pintails are hunted for sport mostly in the northeastern states of India.

Wildlife SOS’s anti-poaching unit, Forest Watch, works through a network of informants and agents to uncover poaching and trafficking operations in India and conducts regular raids and seizures to recover animal products, as well as live animals. Their most common recoveries during raids include skins, bones and other body parts of animals such as – sloth bears, leopards, pangolins, snakes, monitor lizards, turtles, tortoises, seahorses, fishes, rays, coral, birds and so on.

“It is very problematic because it happens through a very well connected middle man who is sitting in Kanpur or Delhi or Lucknow and will never get caught,” says Neha Sinha, who works with the Bombay Natural History Society as an expert on conversation and environmental policies. She adds, “It (trading in wildlife) is just like contraband like cocaine or heroine where you are selling a very high-value product. It is very difficult to root it out because you are talking about big money.”

Excessive poaching has led to the extinction of a number of species; the West African Black Rhino being the most recent to have joined the list of extinct species in the year 2011. Some of the other species that were hunted to extinction include the Pyrenean Ibex that went extinct in 2000. The passenger pigeon was hunted by farmers as they were believed to cause harm to their farms. The Quagga, known for its unique stripes, was hunted for its hide by ranchers. Last seen in the early 1950s, the Caribbean Monk Seal was declared extinct by over hunting in the year 2008. The sea mink, prized for its fur was hunted to extinction in the second half of the 19th century. Tasmanian tigers were believed to kill livestock and were consequently trapped and shot. The Javan tiger became extinct in the 1970s due to over-hunting and a loss of habitat. Excessive poaching, loss of habitat and hunting are driving thousands of other species towards extinction.

Now new species, like the pangolin, are being hunted. “The trade in pangolins and their parts has greatly been due to their use in traditional Chinese medicines, but off-late booming populations and greater wealth in China has increased the demand – pangolin scales, fetuses, and so on are used in medicine, their meat is considered a delicacy and stuffed pangolins are even sold as souvenirs,” says Suvidha Bhatnagar of Wildlife SOS. Wildlife SOS is famous for its work in rescuing and rehabilitating the famous dancing bears. She further adds, “Laws have been put in place to curb the poaching of pangolins and the trafficking of these animals to countries where demand is high, but the enforcement of such laws is lax.”

In India, various laws try to stem the growing trade in wildlife. The Wildlife Protection Act 1972, is one such. The act promises punishment for hunting, illegal possession and illegal trade in wild animals and their articles/derivatives, altering the boundary of a sanctuary or national park, etc. The punishment for offences under this Act is non-bailable with a jail term of up to seven years. While trading in Indian wild birds is a punishable offence according to the law, it is curious that it does not extend the same protection to exotic species or non-native birds such as the African Parrot. Hundreds of species are kept caged by the dozens in pet stores to be sold as ‘household pets.’ The failure of the act to ban such cruel trade in wild birds is a serious handicap in wildlife conservation in India.

The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, otherwise known as CITES, is an international agreement between governments of various nations. It attempts to regulate the international trade in wildlife. It claims to have accorded protection to over 35,000 species of plants and animals. The Indian Government became a party to CITES in the year 1976. The Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992 also provides some level of protection to wildlife in India. Under this act, import and export of all species of wild animals and their articles are prohibited. Customs Act, 1962 deals with all cases of violations of EXIM policy including policies that fall under CITES. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) alfurnishes assistance, legal and otherwise, to help solve wildlife related crimes.

However, despite the benefit of having a wide variety of laws that extends protection to a number of species, the conviction rate in India is at a disheartening rate of a mere two percent. Experts in the field say that in most of the cases, the culprit walks free due to lack of evidence. The fact that most of the market for animal products is situated outside the country does not help. It is difficult to implement laws when the purchasing country is not India. “The poorly implemented international ban on pangolin trade and the increasing demand means that poachers are rarely caught, rarely convicted and continue to reap high profits if they are successful, which they most often are,” says Ms Bhatnagar.

The efficacy of international treaties such as the CITES is also questionable. Bittu Sahgal, well known wildlife conservationist and the editor of the magazine Sanctuary Asia says, “They (CITES) are mandated to tackle poaching and trade, but the fact is many such organizations have been infiltrated by traders and each meeting is now a battle between those seeking to protect and others seeking to create loopholes in protection texts. A classic example is the Japanese insistence on “research kills” for whales and the Chinese penchant for farmed tigers. The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), comprising the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), could have actually curbed poaching and wildlife trade by now, but this is simply low on the global priority.” In such a scenario, the only solution is to stop poaching at our end. “A higher rate of conviction is needed, the deterrent is not the amount of punishment but the guarantee of punishment,” says Ms Sinha.

India has embarked on a path of growth and development. It has been the constant rallying cry of Prime Minister Modi. The current environment minister Prakash Javdekar has even promised environmental clearances within ten days for mining and other industrial projects. It is widely believed that the neo-liberal model of development adopted by the leaders of our country will bring prosperity. What is forgotten and never mentioned in our developmental discourse is the fact that such development comes at the cost of widespread environmental destruction. Development is not possible without a functioning ecosystem. Such growth is meaningless if our rivers and lakes are polluted and our forests destroyed. Bittu Sehgal puts it quite succinctly when he says, “The mistake made by our leaders is that they intrinsically believe that India has to first get rich then protect the environment. The truth is the economy is a house of cards that sits on a stable ecological foundation, not the other way round. It will take no more than three or four consecutive droughts, coupled with a flood or two to cause the entire economy to come tumbling down, GDP ambitions and all.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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